Viewing-as explanations and ontic dependence

Philosophical Studies 177 (3):769-792 (2020)
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Abstract

According to a widespread view in metaphysics and philosophy of science, all explanations involve relations of ontic dependence between the items appearing in the explanandum and the items appearing in the explanans. I argue that a family of mathematical cases, which I call “viewing-as explanations”, are incompatible with the Dependence Thesis. These cases, I claim, feature genuine explanations that aren’t supported by ontic dependence relations. Hence the thesis isn’t true in general. The first part of the paper defends this claim and discusses its significance. The second part of the paper considers whether viewing-as explanations occur in the empirical sciences, focusing on the case of so-called fictional models. It’s sometimes suggested that fictional models can be explanatory even though they fail to represent actual worldly dependence relations. Whether or not such models explain, I suggest, depends on whether we think scientific explanations necessarily give information relevant to intervention and control. Finally, I argue that counterfactual approaches to explanation also have trouble accommodating viewing-as cases.

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Author's Profile

William D'Alessandro
University of Oxford

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